LittleBigPlanet 2 Review
Creativity and imagination are the building blocks of interactive entertainment, and with respect to the team at Media Molecule, you’ll not find a group of more talented inventors. Better still, they remind us that just about everyone has a creative, artistic streak somewhere deep within. That streak is often obscured by the latest brainless abomination in the form of a hideously stupid movie or depressingly artificial piece of music, but our imagination perseveres. Play LittleBigPlanet 2 for an hour, and you’ll begin to understand the boldness of this intro; play it for many hours, and you’ll become immersed in a singular bastion of rewarding creativity. Play it for longer and you just might be ready to sculpt something. A sequel it is, in that the foundation has already been established with the original title, but you can’t imagine how things have evolved. Oh wait…you can imagine.
Those meticulously created, almost universally appealing visuals have returned, and once again, we feel as if we’ve opened up the biggest toy box in the world. Everything in the background, from the zany characters to the smallest – yet equally impressive – detail, will charm the pants off you. Even in the darkest, most intimidating areas, we always want to smile; we feel inundated with a healthy glow of childish amusement. In truth, the graphics aren’t flashy and the special effects are subtle and simple, but the visual presentation is what separates LBP from the rest of the pack. You just don’t see this anywhere else. It’s not just the crispness and clarity that leaps off the screen, it’s the unbelievable level design and the fact that you continually say, “wow, that’s incredible; how the hell did they think of this?!” No super stunning CGI or real-time, movie-like brilliance…just a beautifully polished and pleasant palette.
Somehow, the sound is even better. The diversity of the soundtrack is most appreciated; you’ll hear everything from disco throwbacks to unique compositions within the first few minutes of play, and just when you thought you’ve heard all the music, another great track pops up. The effects are spot on and, like their graphical counterparts, are often subtle for the sake of the presentation. The pop of a collected bubble, the slightly comical dying moan of another out-of-this-world contraption, the creak of a gear, the zap of electricity…it’s all bordering on perfect. Even the voices they selected are excellent, and while those voices adopt a Charlie Brown teacher type of vagueness during gameplay, it all fits. It all fits and it all excels in just about every possible audio category. No matter where you go and no matter what you do, some of the best sound in gaming history will accompany you, and that’s quite the accomplishment.
The world of LBP2 is almost too huge to put into words. While much has been made of the insanely robust creation tools and the freedom afforded any stay-at-home inventor, the Story Mode is worthy of a purchase, in and of itself. The world of LittleBigPlanet is being threatened by the evil Negativitron, which has a long dragon-like neck and a large, machine-like head with sharp teeth and ultra-evil eyes…or as evil as the presentation allows them to be. There are over 30 levels to tackle (not including 20 other side levels) and the variety of such levels is what cements LBP2 as a legitimate single-player gem. You’d never be able to predict where you’d go next, and even those who indulged in the original will be surprised at the extreme amount of diversity. You might ride a bee and shoot honey projectiles at bad guys, explore a moving train, or tackle yet another challenging minigame that might involve platforming expertise or challenge your reactions and dexterity. It’s just nonstop fun.
And if you want to dive right into the creation aspect, you’re almost guaranteed to be overwhelmed at first. Tutorials will only go so far; at the end of the day, you’re faced with a gigantic assortment of tools and a blank slate, which is crazy intimidating. But once you get started, it’s hard to stop. After learning a bit about gluing and corner editing and other basics, you can experiment with new additions, like the Sackbots and microchips. Man, I spent way too much time with the Sackbots; maybe it’s a leftover desire to alter the NPCs I came across in RPGs. Sackbots are NPCs, after a fashion, and you can outfit them however you like (well, you can outside of the Story Mode). These little guys are surprisingly smart and can be used in a bunch of different ways, although I did notice they might do something pretty darn weird every now and then. Maybe it’s just a short-circuit.
But outside of that, once you get involved with the microchips, your head might explode. I won’t go any further because I’m sure you get the picture: the creation and customization tools are fun, relatively easy to use and, oh yeah, there are a ton of them. I also liked that when you jump online, it’s easy to find the best user-created content, and I was able to upload my profile from the original LBP. Just a few nice features I figured I’d mention. You may want to bounce back and forth between invention and more passive partaking of another’s genius; the Story Mode really encourages you to replay levels for the sake of finding all the items, and many of the later areas are super challenging. How many collectibles, stickers and outfits do you want? All of them? The majority of them? If so, you’re going to have to invest some serious time in the single-player aspect of LBP2.
And that’s great news, as far as I’m concerned. But as impressive as this production is, it isn’t all roses. The following may be more subjective in nature but they did impact my enjoyment of the game and therefore, they can’t be ignored: firstly, you may notice that there’s a lot of debate centering on control in LBP2. It’s basically the same as it was in the first game but this also means the same detractors are being vocal. Some will argue the control isn’t quite responsive enough, and the collision detection can be wonky. The latter is definitely true but as for the reliability and accuracy of the control, I just think it’s something to which you have to become accustomed. Sackboy does have an original style of movement, it seems, and he doesn’t react like a hero in a standard platformer. This can be frustrating and many deaths and failures can be attributed to control that requires a bit of learning and adaptation.
That being said, the control isn’t erratic and remains consistent throughout. After playing a few levels, I believe even newcomers will have a firm grasp of Sackboy’s movements. The other issue is the camera; we don’t always have the best possible view of the action, especially when things get a little chaotic. Furthermore, the camera tends to zoom in and out in too often in certain spots, which often makes us lose sight our little stuffed buddy. So when you combine a control scheme that some may dislike and a camera that isn’t always 100% reliable, you do have a slightly problematic gameplay mechanic. But even when we take this into account, the brilliance of the entire production quickly overshadows any drawbacks and leaves us with a feeling of complete and total satisfaction. In fact, if you wish to lose yourself in this latest and evolutionary take on the “Play, Create, Share” philosophy, you will undoubtedly name LBP2 as one of the most fulfilling titles of the generation. You could play this one quite literally forever.
LittleBigPlanet 2 is a masterpiece of ingenuity. With something new around every turn and a seemingly endless supply of creative imagery, many gamers will be smitten in minutes. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, you just have to appreciate the amount of effort involved, and we at PSXE always like to reward supreme talent in the artistic field. The development tools are wildly versatile, the Story Mode is engaging, humorous, and constantly diverse, the technical elements bolster the entire presentation with apt slickness, and the replay value is absolutely through the roof. One could complain about the control (and I’ve always thought the grappling hook could sometimes seem frustrating) and the camera isn’t always in the best spot but beyond that, Media Molecule has delivered a must-try. The game even supports DLC and user content from the original! There’s just so much to see and do; it’s downright mind-boggling.
As I said, creativity and imagination are essential in any form of entertainment that can be considered artistic in nature. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing, that tops LBP2 in terms of ingenuity, and certainly nothing that makes an entire community dip into a wellspring of prolific inspiration. MM has a ton of it and you know what? We have it, too.
The Good: Legendary creativity and ingenuity. Immense diversity and variety. New additions prove significant. The best set of development/creation tools ever. Great stability and flawless presentation. Community is huge and very involved. Story Mode is long and extraordinarily well done.
The Bad: Control can really be a thorn in the side of some. Camera isn’t always reliable. Creation aspect can seem overwhelming and tutorials fall a little short.
The Ugly: Ugly? Where? It’s all so cute.
1/18/2011 Ben Dutka